D Cabriolets – A High Stakes Game with Potentially High Returns

By George Dyke…..

The value of D Cabriolets over the years has skyrocketed compared to the price of 4 door D sedans.  While sedan values are now starting to rise, in large part because the DS (including ID and D model variants) has been consistently voted as one of the most stylish and innovative cars of the 20th century, it is the Cabriolet (also referred to as Décapotable or convertible) versions of the D that have an allure to classic connoisseurs and collectors, making them very sought-after vehicles.

Although artist and designer Flaminio Bertoni had envisaged a convertible version when he designed the DS, Citroën’s resources were already taken up in producing the innovative technology of the sedan. This left the doorway open for an independent coachbuilder – Henri Chapron to design and produce the first Citroën DS Décapotable in 1958.

The DS sedan had already been in production for three years and while Citroën had yet to put their ideas of a convertible into action they were initially unenthusiastic about Chapron’s plans. They did not grant approval and refused to sell chassis for his cars leaving him no choice but to buy complete cars from a local dealer and then convert them.

The ‘La Croisette’ title was used for the early drop-top DS coming from the name of the glamorous coastal road of Cannes in the South of France.  25 of these unofficial DS convertibles had been built by 1959.  A ‘Le Caddy’ version was then developed alongside the Le Dandy coupe using a neater a one-piece rear wing.  Demand was so high that Citroën relented and wisely allowed Chapron to become an official sub-contractor of the convertible. The DS was redesigned by Chapron using Citroën’s proposals and these official cars are known as Usine (factory) Cabriolets.  Citroën provided a special frame which was reinforced on the sidemembers and rear suspension swingarm bearing box, similar to, but not identical to the Break (Station Wagon) frame.  (An excellent description of how Henri Chapron built Décapotables can be found on page 115 of John Pressnell’s book “Citroën DS The Complete Story” along with a full model listing of all the Chapron DS convertible, coupe and sedan variations in Chapter 11). 

By 1960, Citroën had warmed up to the elegance of the Henri Chapron’s Décapotables and showed a special built Chapron-bodied convertible in their booth at the 1960 Paris Salon.  It was essentially a La Croisette with a higher hood line and a more tapered rear).  Production of Citroën factory cabriolets commenced in February of 1961 at a price that was twice that of an ID19 sedan.  

A total of 1365 Décapotables were built between 1960 and 1971 although a number – believed to be 3, were subsequently built as special commissions, the last delivered in 1978.  Of the 1365 cars officially built, 112 were constructed as ID19s, 770 as DS19’s and 483 as DS21s.  Suffice to say they are all very rare and though most have survived, they are traded these days at premium prices. 

Along with Chparon’s work, a number of enterprising companies and individuals have attempted DS convertibles over the years.  Some companies, like Ivanoff in France, have made very close to original reproductions, while others have not followed the procedures used by Chapron and produced cars that are noticeably lacking.  Easiest to spot in the latter are doors that are not extended and windshields that are abruptly cut behind the A pillars. 

While this is just an overview of the DS convertible, it hopefully sets that stage to discuss pricing.   This year we have seen a few DS Cabriolets come up for sale and with varied pedigree.  Let’s look a few:  

Retromobile seems to be the place that establishes DS Cabrio prices for the year:  Artcurial, Bonhams and RM Sotheby’s all staged auctions at Retromobile 2019 with these results:

• A 1963 DS 19 Convertible, estimate: $170,000 – $230,000 US and no sale,
• A 1963 Citroën ID 19 cabriolet Palm Beach, estimate: €230,000 – €330,000 and sold for €226,480,
• A 1967 Citroën DS21 Cabriolet, estimate: €160,000 – €180,000 and sold for €244,360).

The first auction of the season here in the USA was Gooding & Company in Scottsdale.  There, a 1964 DS19 Décapotable that was fitted a modern and turbocharged Citroën engine was offered and sold for $212,800 US.

1964 DS19 Décapotable
1964 DS 19 Décapotable interior
1964 DS 19 Décapotable engine bay with modern engine fitted.

Although the engine modification was beautifully executed, the front end inherited a massive air-intake below the front bumper that belied the sculpted DS front end.  (https://citroenvie.com/ds-19-decapotable-to-be-auctioned-at-scottsdale/). In March, it was listed for sale at Hyman Ltd. in St. Louis, MO for $325,000 US.  A sale was attempted at Pebble Beach, but it did not meet reserve there. However, it does show on Hyman’s website that it has been sold – no price disclosed; https://hymanltd.com/vehicles/6398-1964-citroen-ds19-chapron-decapotable/.

The second auction of the year in the USA was Amelia Island where Gooding & Company sold a 1970 Citroën DS21 Décapotable. Estimated to sell for between $300 – 400K, it fetched $235,000 USD + Buyers premium of 12% for a total of $263,200 USD, a price that reflected the wrong paint colour and a Miami leather shop interior from the early 2000’s.  

1970 Citroën DS21 Décapotable sold at Amelia Island.
1970 Citroën DS21 Décapotable – rear view.

It was featured in this Citroënvie article:  https://citroenvie.com/canadian-ds-cabrio-to-be-auctioned-at-amelia-island/

As we reported on Oct 13, (https://citroenvie.com/record-sale-at-bonhams-for-a-1973-citroen-ds23-ie-decapotable/), perhaps it was an aftermath of prices that other Citroëns commanded at the Pebble Beach auctions in August that set the stage for what has to be highest price paid this year for DS cabriolet.  On October 5, at the Bonhams auction of “The Zoute Sale” at Knokke-Heist, Place Albert de Knokke Le Zoute in Belgium, another world record was set with the sale of a 1973 Citroën DS23 IE Décapotable.  It sold for € 425,500 ($487,945 US) incl. premium. 

1973 Citroën DS23 IE Décapotable
1973 Citroën DS23 IE Décapotable
1973 Citroën DS23 IE Décapotable
1973 Citroën DS23 IE interior

The auction site Bring a Trailer had a 1966 Citroën DS21 Chapron Cabriolet Usine, labelled as a “project”, that “sold” on November 4, 2019, for a very surprising $100,000 US.  I have seen the car a few times at the Citroën Rendezvous in Saratoga Springs, NY.  It needed a full interior, the front end and the dashboard were late-model and obviously wrong, and it was in hurricane Sandy (sitting in salt water). 

1966 DS21 Chapron Cabriolet Usine with last generation US front end.
1966 DS21 Chapron Cabriolet Usine interior.
1966 DS21 Chapron Cabriolet with last series dashboard.

Dave Burnham did major mechanical work on the car to get it running after the flood.  Even so, with a $100K purchase price and still considerable work to do on the car, I had thought it would sell for between $50 and $55K US.  (https://bringatrailer.com/listing/1966-citroen-ds-21-cabriolet/). Still, even at $100K, if you bought it and did a full restoration putting on the original type front and dash, you would have a true Chapron.  The question is; How much would you spend overall to put it right?  Probably at least another $150K US to have a concours quality car. As it turned out, it did not sell after-all. Supposedly the auction winner didn’t read all the comments, one of which stated that the body was transferred to a sedan or wagon chassis back in ‘87. The buyer ended up not going through with the purchase once he found out.

This from the Comments section of the auction:

I got the info from Dave Burnham Citroen who did this work in 1987: “The original Convertible chassis was rusted out from one end to the other and had been repaired poorly with 1/4″ thick angle iron and heavy thick plates. At the time when a Convertible was only worth $10,000 your father decided to put the original convertible parts on a different chassis that was way cheaper, and a lot easier to do. The chassis used was close to the same vintage as the convertible. I know this because we had to cut the front frame horns off to put on later style frame horns to accommodate your father’s wishes to have a late model 4 headlight front body. The original convertible rear body, doors, deck lid, inner convertible structure, the front windshield frame, and anything convertible specific were installed on the donor chassis. All the original convertible parts from your father’s convertible were actually in quite good condition it was just the lower 6” of the original chassis was shot. At that time when those cars were not worth much this saved a lot of money and was a totally acceptable way to “restore” a convertible.

Subsequently the car was listed for sale on Facebook, at one point (Nov. 25, 2019) for $95,000 US.

Greg Long has ventured into the Bring a Trailer auction world having currently listed another DS21 Cabriolet on the auction website – this one a 1967 Citroën DS21 Chapron Decapotable 4-Speed.

1967 DS21 Chapron Decapotable 4-Speed.
1967 DS21 Chapron Decapotable – side view.
1967 DS21 Chapron Decapotable – rear view.
1967 DS21 Chapron Decapotable interior.

This highly original, unrestored genuine Chapron Décapotable was delivered new to San Francisco and it spent the vast majority of its life in California.  It was acquired by Greg from storage at Dave Burnham Citroën near Albany, NY in 2018, and Greg drove it to Rendezvous in Saratoga Springs, NY that year.  I had a chance to take it for a spin and can attest that it was truly a joy to drive.  As the BaT listing illustrates, it has had an amazing life and is now ready for its new owner.  (https://bringatrailer.com/listing/1967-citroen-ds-6/).   It is currently bid to $60US but expect to see strong bidding toward the end of the auction in 5 days.   [Update – Dec. 23, 2019: It was sold for $205,000 US on BaT. A good deal for the buyer.]

To put all these “Original DS Cabrio” values in some context, I came across a lovely DS reproduction Cabriolet when I was at Classic Remise in Berlin, Germany.  The price was 98,000 Euros, (about $109,265 US). 

DS reproduction Cabriolet at Classic Remise, Berlin, Germany.

A reproduction DS if well done should command about $100K US.  For a “hacked” cabrio, the cost should be dramatically less. 

At this year’s 100th anniversary celebration of Citroën in La Ferté-Vidame, France, there was DS21 convertible for sale on the show field with an asking price of just 119.000 euros.  The sign did not state that is was replica but it had clasps at the top of the interior door panels that should not be present.

The owner was not around to ask about authenticity, so I can only assume at that price it must have been a replica although a pretty good one.     

This fake DS cabriolet in Valencia, California, appeared on ebay back in October 2018.  (https://citroenvie.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=27472&action=edit). You can see, particularly by the oddly bulging back end and the regular-sized DS doors, that the proportions are way off to what a Henri Chapron Cabriolet or any good facsimile would be. With a starting bid of $121,995.25 US placed by the seller (God know why the 25 cents) there were zero bids and not surprisingly – a no sale.

And finally, here’s a Vietnamese replica that appeared on eBay in November 2015.  (https://citroenvie.com/down-under-replica-ds-cabrio-on-ebay-at-an-over-the-top-price/). I mention it here because it shows how, in many areas, it looks like a true cabriolet.

Vietnamese replica DS Cabriolet.

While prices this year have been a “wild ride” to say the least, the demand and rarity of D Cabriolets should ensure that prices stay well above $200K US for nice original ones, with exceptional condition cars commanding $300K or more.  That’s well into exotic classic territory, and if you have the financial wherewithal to dabble in that market, investing in an authentic Henri Chapron cabriolet with originality in properly preserved or restored condition, will ensure good resale value and potentially make a profit in the future.  They are probably a safe a bet, if not more so, than any other sought after classic automobile. 

On the other hand, a well-executed D Cabriolet reproduction can provide a DS Décapotable experience for less than half the cost of a true one, and without the worry of keeping it pristine and as you pile on the miles.  Buy weighing what you feel will be the best balance in terms of ownership enjoyment and investment return. 

If you take away only one thing from this article, I hope it is that you should thoroughly investigate any DS Décapotable before making a purchase.  Rot can be occurring in places not found in DS sedans; in the extra strength support that Henri Charon added to windshield posts, the strengthening of the sills below the doors and the entire area below where the convertible top folds.  All were very poorly rust protected when built and can be considerable areas of repair today let alone the convertible top itself, and needing the special trim and the interior.  And know the history of the car so you are assured of authenticity or replica status.  

Know what you are buying and what you will need to invest on top of the purchase price! 

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